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Peter Tosh and Nelson Mandela

Fighting from Opposite Corners

The Prize: Equal Rights

Jeffrey Coyne


Peter Tosh and Nelson Mandela are two men who dedicated their lives to fight for equal rights. They are united by common goals but walked on different paths in their struggles against the oppressors. The major commonality, which made both men brilliant leaders and revolutionary thinkers, was their passion. The passion they had for their beliefs and turning their visions into reality.

Tosh and Mandela’s divergent approaches started during their youth and followed both individuals through a lifetime struggle. Peter Tosh was born on October 9, 1944 in Westmoreland, Jamaica. Born with the name Winston Huburt McIntosh, curtsey of his absent churchgoing preacher father James McIntosh and mothered by Alvera Coke, Tosh found himself alone in the world. Peter faced the hardships of Jamaican country life including lack of supervision and a poor economic standing. Immediately challenged as a child, he was watched by his aunt but claimed that he raised himself. Peter always took responsibility for his actions and never relied on others for help. Self-reliance was the strongest characteristic trait gained during this period. The separation from his parents deeply rooted his need for finding peace in this world. "I was born raised in righteousness, not to say that my parents was righteous, because they did not know righteousness. They were being led away to a shitstem, or being deceived by deceivers, you see, because they wanted to know what was righteousness" (Holmes and Steffens, Reasoning with Tosh). Tosh negatively associated his parents with all that is bad in society and that which one must never become. He chose at a young age to live his life with loftier aspirations. This "righteousness" ties hand in hand with his Rastafarian beliefs. Tosh clearly states, "I was born Rastafarian. You cannot turn Rasta man, you have to be born a Rasta" (Walker, Tough Tosh). His childhood experiences turned him into a tough man ready to conquer the Babylon.

Nelson Mandela had a very different childhood than Peter Tosh. Born in a small village called Umtata in Transkei, South Africa on July 18, 1918; Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was destined to fight for his people. His father was the chief of their tribe, meaning that young Nelson had the role of taking over the position when his father passed away. Mandela grew up in a loving home with his parents and close ties to his many relatives. Supporting people who cared for his well being constantly surrounded him. The small African village consisted of small huts with dirt floors and their diet was mostly corn that they grew in the fields. They had no luxuries, no true ownership and made next to no money. Young Nelson grew up wearing only a blanket until age seven when an opportunity arose, to be the first in his family to attend school. Mandela recalls, "On the first day of school, my teacher, Miss Mdingane, gave each of us an English name and said that from thenceforth that was the name we would answer to in school…The education I received was a British education, in which British ideas, British culture, British institutions, were automatically assumed superior. There was no such thing as African culture" (Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom). What exactly does this experience mark in this young boys life? Babylon!!

As the teenage years moved on for these two men, their paths towards savior only diverged more. Mandela was moving on in his education attending a Wesleyan secondary school and later the University of Fort Hare. It was during his time in college that he saw the legal system as a way to liberate the oppressed. He was kicked out of the university for his involvement in a protest and later finished a Bachelors of Art while serving as a clerk in Johannesburg. He became involved politically and decided he was going to aid his people by attacking the legal system as a professional attorney.

At fifteen years of age, Peter Tosh found the streets of Trench Town. This was to be the scene for his lifework. Tosh had already been involved musically for many years in choirs and by picking up instruments like the guitar. It was in Trench Town that he met Marley and organized his army. It was music that was to become his medium for expressing his discontent. Tosh viewed school as a waste of time and a chance to be brainwashed by the shitstem. He felt that all that you had to learn was taught to you by Jah or you were born with the knowledge. "Because when I realize what school is, is just…pack of shit…I was elementary brought up, seen? And all the things that I teach today, school didn’t tell me, all of them I see in the lines of inspiration." He further states that the reason is the Rasta would send their children to school is "to learn the general shitstem, to learn how to read and write, you see, to learn that there’s a sign marked ‘Danger,’ see?" (Steffen’s and Holmes, Reasoning with Tosh) These views of education are quite contrary to those of Mandela. Where Mandela wanted to be educated to manipulate the system, Tosh saw education only as a means to "grad u hate."

Tosh and Marley spent their time in Kingston forming a band called the Wailers. It was in Kingston where Tosh found his weapon of choice, Reggae music. It was through the sweet sound of his guitar, which at one point was in the shape of an M-16 rifle, that he cried out for freedom. "This guitar is firing shots at all them devil disciples. Music is my weapon to fight against apartheid, nuclear war and those gang-Jah criminals." (Pierson and Steffens, Honorary Citizen) The music was the outlet for expressing himself to the public. "Reggae is spiritually revolutionary, and the message is divine. The message content opens the eyes of the people to the evils of the system…as inside the music are the seeds of destruction of the said shitstem." (Bagga Brown, High Times magazine 1983) Tosh has been criticized for his lyrics basically since the beginning. He was a brilliant songwriter and philosopher evident in his controversial songs calling for revolution and repatriation. When asked about his songs he states, "My songs are a revolution, not smiling songs" (Mark of the Beast, Honorary Citizen Disc One). This revolutionary stance made him very successful but can also be attributed to his horrific death.

The titles of Tosh’s songs illustrate the various topics and issues he addressed: Equal Rights, Downpressor Man, 400 Years, Apartheid, Stand Firm, Peace Treaty and Recruiting Soldiers. The lyrics go into detail how Peter Tosh planned to bring down Babylon. "Equal Rights" was played for the first time at the one love peace concert in 1978. The song proclaims, "I don’t want no peace, I need equal rights and justice, We’ve got to get equal rights and justice, Right here in Jamaica, Equal Rights and Justice!" It was an enormous statement to sing this song at the one love concert because he viewed the concert as something of a fallacy. Tosh spoke before the song and states "You see, most intellectual people in society think the word peace means coming together. Peace is the diploma you get in the cemetery, seen." (One Love Concert, Kingston Jamaica) Words from this speech were reiterated as "No Justice, No Peace," during the Rodney King controversy in Los Angeles (Steffens, The Peter Tosh Biography)

Nelson Mandela and Tosh are recognized for their words and their actions. Both men always favored peaceful protest and only resorted to violence when absolutely necessary. Mandela’s experience began when he joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1943 in support of battling racial injustices. Mandela, accompanied by Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu, broke from the traditional ANC to create the ANC Youth League in 1944. He was very involved in the running of the organization and in the strategic planning of the movement. The most devastating blow to the ANC, as well as South Africa as a nation, was the rise of the National Party in 1948. Under the rule of Dr. Malan, Apartheid was instituted to support racial discrimination and oppression. A terrible situation got immediately elevated to utter Babylon. The entire government making apartheid the official law of the land substantiated twisted stereotypes. Mandela asserts, "I detest racism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man." (Mandela, Long walk to freedom) Mandela became the president of the ANC Youth League in 1951 and leads massive organized revolts against apartheid.

Tosh sang against apartheid from Jamaica in his song "Apartheid" and later rewrote the song as "Fight Apartheid." He speaks for the Africans living their own nations as slaves, "You in me land…And you build up your partment…you build up your regimes…only talk ‘bout justice…your in me land…handing down injustice." (Fight Apartheid, Tosh). The chorus of the song reiterates, "We go fight against apartheid, We got to fight against apartheid." He saw the shituation in South Africa as Babylon trying to strike down all Africans around the world. Mandela echoes Tosh in a statement made from prison, "Unite! Mobilise! Fight on! Between the anvil of united mass action and the hammer of the armed struggle we shall crush apartheid." (N.M., African National Congress, June 10, 1980). Mandela knew that the way to overcome apartheid was via a worldwide platform that enlightened the government of South Africa of the evils they were perpetuating.

Nelson Mandela and Peter Tosh were living targets that their respective governments attempted to silence by all means available. The Jamaican government took every chance possible to silence the revolutionary Reggae artist. Tosh was outspoken on the topic of police brutalization because of his vast first hand experience. Tosh speaks of the police: "I see the mark of the beast on their ugly faces. I see them congregating in evil places. Me know them a wicked." ("Mark of the Beast", Honorary Citizen Disc Once) He explains his situation as he introduces the song, "Can you sing a revolution, A threat to society, you become a threat to society." Peter also experienced, in his own words, nine "assass-the-fucking-nations" attempts before he was murdered in his home. The doubt around Tosh’s death also raises the question if the government orchestrated the murder. From the moment Mandela became politically involved, he was one of the greatest threats to the South African government and apartheid as an institution. The South African government dealt with the Mandela in the most inhumane ways possible, stripping the man justice and throwing him into a prison cell for over a quarter of a century.

Nelson Mandela earned the nickname of the "Black Pimpernel" because of his success at avoiding the police. As a political activist and lawyer in the 1950’s he was banned, arrested and imprisoned by the South African government. In order to keep up his work and not rot away in a cell, he went underground and became a master of disguise eluding the authorities and thus earning the title of the "Black Pimpernel" ( Mandela spent the 1950’s leading the revolution and keeping himself out of jail. Babylon got the best of him in August of 1962 when he was arrested and sentenced to five years on Robben Island. In 1964 he was brought up on more accounts of sabotage and was sentenced to life in prison along with many of the other leaders of the ANC. Mandela’s prison life fortified his beliefs, elevated his political stature to a god-like existence and set the stage for the destruction of apartheid in South Africa.

Two statements illustrate his learned knowledge while imprisoned. A fourteen page statement given by Nelson Mandela to the Pretoria Supreme Court on April 20, 1964 states, "I planned sabotage…I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by the whites." (Mandela, "I am Prepared to Die.") Mandela began work on his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, in prison and later finished it after his release in 1990. Mandela spent the years continuing his political and philosophical work behind the bars of a prison cell. This profound realization epitomizes his view of imprisonment after twenty-seven years in prison:

"It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed. A man who takes away another man’s freedom is a prisoner of hatred, he is locked behind the bars of prejudice and narrow-mindedness. I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity"

Peter Tosh seemed to view equality in different lights depending on his situation in life and time of reference. On one hand, he supports the Rastafarian concept of "One Love" in the statement: "They know I don’t support politricks and games. Because I have bigger aims, hopes and aspirations. My duty is not to divide them, my duty is to unify the people, cause to divide people is to destroy people. And destroy yourself, too." (Walker, Tough Tosh) Yet he was also quoted in reference to his view on the white race, "They try to paint a picture from a picture, so it must look phony. Their experience and inspiration is secondhand; a mango tree cannot bear an apple." (Bagga Brown, High times magazine 1983) Tosh had much more animosity, at least vocalized, for the white race than Nelson Mandela. In Tosh’s eyes, Babylon was created and is the white man. Tosh sang a song titled "Here Comes the Judge" in which he sits as a judge in a courtroom and accuses men like Vasco de Gama and "Christ-tief Come-Rob-Us," for crimes such as "colonialism, imperialism, slave trading, killing 50 million black people

without a cause, and teaching black people to hate themselves." (Honorary Citizen)

Nelson Mandela and Peter Tosh have left considerable impacts on society. It is interesting to see how both men were viewed by society during the course of their lives. It would be fairly safe to say that the majority of the factions that which he represented throughout his younger life respected Mandela. However, it wasn’t until his time in prison and his later release that he became an international figure of hope, democracy and morality. Mandela’s approach was always dignified, planned and constant in respect to his ideology. This earned him great admiration from South Africa and political leaders around the world. A great example of Mandela’s loyalty to the movement was during his own trial and that of the heads of the ANC. Faced with the death penalty as the ultimate and worst outcome, it was decided before trial that they would never appeal even if given the death sentence. Ahmed Kathrada, a fellow ANC leader with Mandela, speaks about Mandela’s view; "His political argument was that this is a political case…If the leaders of the movement show weakness…what detrimental effect it would have on the followers outside…Leaders are there to lead, and show the courage that is necessary in the face of any consequences." (Ahmed Kathrada,

Peter Tosh was also a freedom fighter but his mentality was much more controversial and angst ridden. To many Jamaicans, Rastas, he epitomized the struggle between white and black on their island home. He had never ending problems with the law and was beaten down by the system time and time again. Tosh was aware of the fact that he had a very strong personality and was quite proud of it. He stated, "Most people don’t want to deal with me because most people say I’m hostile, some people say I’m arrogant. Them have all different kinds of names to class me and most people who hear these things are in fear to even talk to me." (Walker, Tough Tosh) He lived his life by his own ideals which some did not always understand. After the legendary Sunsplash concert in 1980 and his expressive speech, a reporter had the audacity to comment; "Jamaica’s international Reggae singer Peter Tosh as headline artiste gave a sparkling performance which was marred by his behavior-cursing (or maybe it could be called swearing) and the smoking of weed on stage." (The Weekend Star, Friday, July 4. 1980)

A more intuitive recollection on Tosh is "He was as proud, pompous, stubborn, suspicious, argumentative and hasty-tempered a figure as could be imagined." (In the Path of the Steppin’ Razor, Timothy White,

Nelson and Peter both were treated with more dignity and respect outside of their home countries during their struggles. It was the mistreatment in their homeland that drove them to achieve equality. Tosh stated during an interview, "I’ve been respected more outside of Jamaica than in Jamaica…I don’t go to jail…I’m not being brutalized by the police…And I don’t see so many bad-minded people who don’t want to see our progress but want to see our destruction." (Walker, Tough Tosh) It wasn’t until after Tosh’s death that his cousin Pauline Morris set out to recognize Peter as, in her words, "an honorary, and honorable citizen." (Pierson and Steffens, Honorary Citizen) Mandela was accused under racist laws and served a life sentence for twenty-seven years in jail. Needless to say, both men would have had a much easier life had they left their countries in exile for a more enjoyable locale.

Tosh and Mandela were proud of their heritage and dedicated their lives to fight the oppression of African people. Interestingly, Tosh commented on the pain he felt for the inequality in South Africa: "It was like I was born in South Africa, because of the environment I was born, because of the philosophy that they preaches inoculates the youth with inferiority complex in as much as I was taught that when your white your perfectly right, but if you are black, stay in the back." (Stepping Razor Red X) This is the same concept that Mandela defended since childhood, to be proud regardless of skin color. Tosh recollects as a child, "And I ask why am I black, they say I was born in sin, and shamed inequity. One of the main songs we used to sing in church makes me sick, ‘Love wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.’" (Stepping Razor Red X)

Mandela and Tosh were motivated and driven by different forces in their fight against Babylon. Tosh felt: "I have a job to do…I am a vehicle for the word of Jah, a spanner from him toolbox, so I must pass on the message…to be the ‘constructive awakener’ of the black masses of the world so them know themselves and others know what black people suppose to be, and where" (Bagga Brown, High Times magazine 1983) Tosh was driven by a higher force that had placed him on earth for this specific function. "Peter was a black messenger. A man who liked to see equal rights and justice, freedom for his people. Peter was a great singer, a messenger and a philosopher," states Carlton Smith. (Piersons and Steffens, Honorary Citizen) Mandela took on the responsibility of standing up against apartheid for all of South Africa. He was not instructed by his god and did not view himself as a messenger, just a man acting morally. Mandela’s first words upon his release from prison describe the motivational factors, which placed him in jail to begin with, and what eventually set him free. "Friends, Comrades and fellow-South Africans, I great you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom for all. I stand before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today — I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands." (Mandela, Release Speech)

Although Tosh’s life was cut short at a young age, his achievements carry on beyond the grave. If peace exists in death, then his diploma would be the legacy he has left for today and tomorrow’s freedom fighters. His Rastafarian beliefs would echo the fact that since he was here 1000 years ago, he will be here in another 1000 in one form or another. Tosh sang, "I’m a man of the past, and I’m living in the present, and I’m walking in the future. I’m such a mystic man." (Mystic Man, Tosh, Honorary Citizen, Disc 2)

The final chapter of Nelson Mandela’s life began in 1990 when he was freed from his bondage as a political slave. During his first speech after being released from prison, he quotes his own words from his trial in 1964, "I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die" (Mandela, February 11, 1990) Nelson was elected the ANC president in July of 1991 and accepts the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 with F.W. de Klerk for ending apartheid. April 26, 1994 was the mark of the first democratic election where all races vote and elect Mandela as president. In his inaugural speech on May 9, 1994 Mandela spoke, "You have mandated us to change South Africa from a country in which the majority lived with little hope, to one in which they can live and work with dignity, with a sense of self-esteem and confidence in the future." (Mandela, Address to the people of Cape Town, Inaugural Speech, May 9, 1994)

Nelson Mandela and Peter Tosh were forward thinkers. Leaders who had a vision of a world that was different from the oppressive system in which they lived. They were not in search of perfect world, but one that was equal. One of Mandela’s most famous quotes that can also defines the experience of Peter Tosh, "The struggle is my life." (Mandela, Long walk to freedom) They dedicated their lives to humanity. Mandela’s passionate acceptance speech includes this passage: "We stand here today as nothing more than a representative of the millions of our people who dared to rise up against a social system whose very essence is war, violence, racism, oppression, repression and the impoverishment of an entire people." (Nobel Peace Prize Speech, December 1993) Mandela and Tosh were representatives in the loftiest of struggles and will forever remain pillars of the resistance against oppression.

Works Cited


1) Brown, Bagga. "Interview." High Times Magazine, April 1983.

2) "Equal Rights," Honorary Citizen Box Set. Sony Music Entertainment Inc., 1997.

3) "Fight Apartheid," Sony Music Entertainment Inc., 1997.

4) Holmes, Hank and Steffens, Roger. "Reasoning with Tosh." Reggae Times Newspaper, 1980.

5) Kathrada, Ahmed. Frontline Interview, 1999. Web:

6) Mandela, Nelson. "I am Prepared to Die." Pretoria Supreme Court, 20 April 1964.

7) Mandela, Nelson. African National Congress, June 10, 1980

8) Mandela, Nelson. Speech Delivered by Comrade Nelson Mandela on his release. Cape Town. February 11, 1990.

9) Mandela, Nelson. Nobel Peace Prize Speech, December 1993.

10) Mandela, Nelson. Address to the people of Cape Town, Inaugural Speech, May 9, 1994

11) Mandela, Nelson. Long walk to freedom: The autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Boston: Little Brown, 1994.

12) "Mark of the Beast," Honorary Citizen Box Set. Sony Music Entertainment Inc., 1997.

13) "Mystic Man," Honorary Citizen Box Set. Sony Music Entertainment Inc., 1997.

14) Piersons, Leroy Jodie and Steffens, Roger. Discography/Track Notes: Peter Tosh — Honorary Citizen. Honorary Citizen Box Set. Sony Music Entertainment Inc., 1997.

15) Steffens, Roger. "The Peter Tosh Biography." Honorary Citizen Box Set. Sony Music Entertainment Inc., 1997.

16) Stepping Razor Red X, The Peter Tosh Story. Nicholas Cambpell, 1992, Northern Art Entertainment. Inc.

17) Tosh, Peter. "Peter Tosh: Honorary Citizen". Sony Music Entertainment Inc., 1997.

18) Tosh, Peter. "Peter Tosh at Sunsplash 1980" The Beat Magazine, 1989.

19) Tosh, Peter. "Herb" High Times Magazine, September 1976.

20) Unknown Reporter. The Weekend Star, Friday, July 4. 1980

21) Walker, John. "Tough Tosh." Trouser Press Interview, 1983.

22) White, Timothy. "In the Path of the Steppin’ Razor." Web:

23), Mandela Notes